AUTHOR'S NOTE: All of the letters written by Harry will be aligned to the LEFT. All letters written by his correspondent will be aligned CENTER.
The plotbunny that resulted in this fic was born after reading Lettered by pir8fancier, who graciously gave her consent for me to use it as inspiration. I wrote this as a bit of fun in-between writing the heavily detailed and ultimately torturous chapters of Bad Faith. It's light, funny, a bit romantic, full of smut, and not much else. Enjoy!
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1. a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
2. any illogical or paradoxical problem or situation; dilemma.
Whose Bright Idea Was This, Anyway?
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Am I the only one that thinks this is a stupid idea and a complete waste of time?
'No one will know who your correspondent is, not even your Head of House,' McGonagall is explaining. 'Each seventh-year student has been randomly assigned a number and paired with a student from another House with a corresponding number. You will pass your letters to your Head of House, who will similarly pass them on to the appropriate staff member for delivery.'
'Professor?' Dean Thomas asks, raising his hand. 'I'm sorry, but what exactly is the point of this?'
'The point, Mr Thomas, is to attempt to enforce unity between students of different Houses. The Headmaster believes that in these dark times, it is necessary to forget our differences and learn to appreciate our strengths, and I must concede.'
'But, Professor, why do the letters have to be anonymous?' Parvati says.
'Anonymity removes any possibility of prejudice and provides each student with, shall we say, a blank sheet of parchment. You may know nothing about your correspondent or you may know a lot-but in your letters you will be speaking with, as far as you know, a complete stranger. With the absence of any preordained bias you may have acquired, good or bad, you will find it much easier to communicate freely. A chance to "be yourselves" without having to worry about trivial details such as House, class, gender or heritage.
'You all have already been assigned a number, which you are forbidden to disclose to anyone, be they Housemates or even siblings. You are required to communicate with your correspondent no less than once a fortnight. You may write whatever you wish; the staff will not be reading the letters, or grading you by their content. They are completely confidential. And as the point is for you to form a bond with another student, I recommend that you be honest; just write as you would to anyone else your age.'
Lavender raises her hand and McGonagall nods to her. 'Can we write more than once a fortnight?'
'You may write several times a day, if you wish, Miss Brown,' McGonagall tells her. 'Just be sure that you do not sign your letters. You may leave your notes in an envelope, on the inside flap of which you should write your personal number, and drop them off at my office at any time to be passed along.'
Harry looks down at his letter. The handwriting is not familiar, but Harry sometimes has difficulty even telling Ron's handwriting from Seamus' or Dean's, and the only reason he recognises Hermione's is due to copying six years' worth of History of Magic notes before exams.
'At first, you and your correspondent will be forbidden from arranging encounters, or otherwise revealing yourselves to each other or anyone else,' McGonagall continues. 'However, starting at the holidays and up until the end of the year, if both you and your correspondent mutually agree to meet, inform your Heads of House and we will provide you with the necessary information.
Harry rubs his forehead. This all sounds extremely complicated, and if fifth year was any indication, N.E.W.T.s are bound to be occupying most-if not all-of Harry's time. They haven't been back for a week and already he has a mountain of Charms, Potions and History homework to finish, not to mention Quidditch practice three nights a week.
'You have ten minutes before class is dismissed,' McGonagall adds after answering some other questions about the 'letter project'. 'I suggest you use that time to respond to your letters.'
There is a great amount of parchment-shuffling and quill-scratching as the class follows McGonagall's advice. Harry stares down at his letter again. With a furtive glance to his left, he notices that Ron's letter is almost a full paragraph-certainly enough to prompt a response. He can't see Hermione's letter, because she has already begun a reply, and it is nearly half a foot long already.
Am I the only one that thinks this is a stupid idea and a complete waste of time?
What am I supposed to say to that? Harry thinks. It's their very first letter and already his correspondent is annoying him. Though he supposes his correspondent got the shafted end of the broomstick; having to write the first letter was probably even more frustrating. Feeling slightly less irate with this in mind, Harry bends his head low over a fresh sheet of parchment and begins to write.
I don't think so. I know my homework queue certainly agrees with you.
He pauses, quill poised over the parchment. He suddenly realises that he doesn't even know if his correspondent is a boy or girl. It is even harder than talking to a complete stranger; a stranger you can see, and can tell whether they are male or female, and you can judge their reactions and expressions and tone of voice. What do you say to someone who you know so little about?
A drop of ink falls from his quill tip to the paper, leaving a small splotch. This is going to be more difficult than he thought. Well, there is one thing he knows about the person... the one and possibly only thing they have in common.
So, I guess this means you're #22, too. I guess that doesn't really mean anything, except that we'll be seeing a lot of each other's scrawling for the next couple of months.
Hmm. It isn't the most elaborate of letters, but it will do. He's—sort of—prompted a conversation, if you can possibly even have a conversation about the number 22.
'Time's up,' McGonagall says just as Harry rolls up his answer. 'Pass your letters forward. On a final note, I daresay I hardly need describe the sort of punishment any student or students found trying to sabotage the project will receive. Consider yourselves warned.
'Be sure to place your replies in the envelopes provided, with your numbers on the inside, Mr Longbottom,' she reprimands as Neville begins to write on the outside of his envelope.
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Harry does not receive an answer for almost ten days; it's been so long he's almost forgotten they have to keep these correspondent letters going. He is deeply engrossed in his History of Magic essay when Hedwig lands on top of Hermione's stack of books with a letter in her beak.
'Oh, Harry, your letter is here.'
'What?' Harry says, looking up. He has ink smudged on his fingers and really hates everything to do with Chimeras and the illegal trafficking of their bodily fluids. 'What letter?'
Hermione points at the letter still in Hedwig's beak. 'McGonagall sends all our correspondent letters in red envelopes, so that we know not to open them unless they're for us.'
'Huh? Oh.' Harry finally gives up on the stupid essay, grateful for an excuse to take a break. 'Yeah, I forgot, I haven't gotten one in a while. Here.' He holds out his arm and Hedwig flutters to him. Harry takes the letter from her and she hoots happily at him. 'Thanks, Hedwig.'
'I really think this whole project is a wonderful idea, don't you?' Hermione asks him.
'Er,' says Harry. 'I guess. A bit annoying, though.'
Hermione shrugs. 'It's not that bad. Only once every two weeks, right? Doesn't take that long to write a letter.'
'How are yours going?' Harry asks.
She smiles at him. 'Rather well, actually. I can't tell if it's a boy or a girl, but they felt the same way you did about the idea until we'd exchanged a few letters... we usually write every day, now.'
'Every day?' Harry asks, surprised. 'We haven't even had the project for two weeks yet!'
'Yes, well,' Hermione says, shrugging. 'McGonagall said we can write as often as we like, didn't she?'
Harry shakes his head, wondering where in the world Hermione manages to fit everything she does into the day and still have time to knit elf hats. Wiping the ink off his hands, he sits back and unfolds his letter:
It depends on how you look at it. 22 can translate to quite a lot. It may not tell me anything about you, but maybe you'll learn something about me. For one, we know it's a composite number. It's used as a Master Builder number in Numerology. It also happens to be the atomic number for titanium. Don't ask me why I know any of that. Six years of school and what to show for it?
Here's one that makes a little more sense: Catch-22. 'No escape from plight because of conflicting dependences.' For example, this situation I am currently in, where I have to waste five precious minutes every other week when I could be studying for NEWTs to write some random prat a paragraph of complete bollocks in order to avoid detention, which would also result in studying time lost.
Funny, Harry thinks, that his correspondent seems to have the same opinion as he does about this project. Still, just because Hermione writes every day, it doesn't mean they have to. It only takes about five minutes to write a letter, and five minutes every week or so is easy enough a sacrifice. And right now Harry likes the idea of taking a five minute break from his stupid essay, so he pulls out a fresh piece of parchment to reply:
You're right. I did learn something about you. Are you always so pessimistic?
A friend of mine thinks this project's a good idea, and the more I think about it, the more I agree with her. Five precious minutes you could spend studying? I'd like to think of it as five minutes to take a break from banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out why we need to know anything about the history of chimera blood being sold on the black market, since chimeras have been extinct for the past 50 years anyway.
What else would you do with these five minutes besides study, anyway?
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I'm not pessimistic, I'm realistic. They told us to be honest, so fine, I'm being honest. I still think this is a total waste of time.
I suppose it could be worse, though. I could have been assigned a complete dunce or some overly hormonal girl for a correspondent, and you seem to be neither. As far as the importance of chimera blood goes, if you try actually reading the text you might notice that it is a prime ingredient for the making of a Philosopher's Stone. The chimera might be defunct, but there's bound to be a healthy amount of their remains still circulating the market with that kind of demand. It certainly sheds light on why the bloody things went extinct, doesn't it?
What would I do with a free five minutes? I suppose I should tell you something mundane, like play Exploding Snap or go for a refreshing walk around the lake, but if I'm going to follow these absurd directions about being straightforward in these letters, that would be an outright lie.
Honestly? Probably wank. You?
Harry has to read this letter twice over. He can't believe that someone would consider putting something like this on parchment, much less send it off to a complete stranger.
But that's the point, isn't it, Harry thinks, because if the teachers really aren't reading these, and they don't even have to know who they've been writing to, it shouldn't be embarrassing, should it?
Harry shakes his head and pulls out a fresh piece of parchment to reply. Normally he would wait until the next Transfiguration class, where McGonagall has begun allocating five minutes at the end of the period for people to finish up their answers, but he feels a genuine desire to reply now. One thing is for sure: his correspondent, whoever he is, is definitely a he now, which makes it a little easier for Harry to think of things to write. And his correspondent seems to know that, likewise, the recipient is a boy; after all, there are some things you just don't say to a girl, even anonymously.
I'm strongly resisting the urge to say I appreciate your honesty. I mean, really, what if I was an overly hormonal girl?
I probably would do something 'mundane', as you like to call it, though certainly not a walk by the lake, the giant squid creeps me the hell out. But I play a damn good game of Exploding Snap. And if that's the only other thing you'd do with your free time besides write letters full of complete bollocks to random prats, then I have to say, I think this little project will do you some good.
Actually, if I had five minutes to myself, I'd probably spend it taking a nap under the beech tree on the grounds. Before it gets too cold, anyway. I like the breeze.
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The reply comes much quicker this time; the very next day, Harry wakes up to find Hedwig sitting on the edge of his bed with a red envelope in her beak. He yawns and rubs his eyes while groping for his glasses, which he pushes on over his nose, then lies back to open it:
If you were an overly hormonal girl, considering the soonest we could meet is the holidays, I'd say come Christmas I wouldn't need to be wanking.
Do me some good? I'm seventeen and living in forced confinement with four other blokes. What would do me some good is to get laid. Don't even try to pretend you're some innocent minded little saint. I don't care how angelic you might look on the outside, the internal thought process for every male our age is the same. Sex first, then everything else. Your denial is unbecoming.
You like the breeze, eh? Well, looks like I just learned something else about you. How long have you been flying?
Whoops, Harry thinks, and he frowns at the letter. Then he supposes there isn't any harm in letting his correspondent know he flies—or even that he plays Quidditch, for that matter. There are three whole teams he could be on, after all, and at least three quarters of the players are male and seventh-years. It hardly narrows down his identity. And he's learnt something, too; this guy obviously flies as well, and from the way he recognises the relation to the breeze, he probably enjoys it just as much as Harry does. They do have something in common, after all.
Since I came to Hogwarts. I never owned a broom before coming here. You?
Harry sits up and re-reads this line several times. He doesn't want to suggest that he wasn't raised by wizards; not that it matters, but the whole point of the letters is to remove outside biases, and heritage is always an issue with wizarding families. Once he decides the sentence is vague enough to not imply either way, he considers the rest of the letter. He isn't sure if he qualifies as thinking of sex first, then everything else, although since last year the possibilities have certainly began to occupy more than their fair share of his daydreams. But Harry has a myriad of other things he is keeping busy with, so he hasn't really bothered to stop and think about it before.
I'm not denying anything. I never said I didn't think about sex, I said I could think of better things to occupy my time than wanking off. There's a difference. And I think it'd probably be a good idea for you to find yourself a hormonal girl, before you get obsessive. If I run into any, I'll pass them along.
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Since I was six. My father couldn't stand me being inside the house when I was younger. The broom gave him ample reason to kick me outside for hours at a time until I turned eleven, at which point he could send me away here. Not that I minded, mind you. Getting me back inside was usually the hard part.
Pass them along? Instead of keep them for yourself? How am I supposed to interpret that? I suppose you mean because you're 'too good' to settle for any old hormonal girl, but to a complete stranger (which, might I remind you, I am) it could also easily be translated as 'I don't fly on that side of the pitch, help yourself.' Not that I'm one to talk.
Harry tries, without success, to reply to this with more than one line:
And how am I supposed to interpret that?
The reply comes that same day. Hedwig flutters down to him during dinner with the letter in her beak.
However you like. It doesn't really matter either way, does it? It's almost like these letters are a means of confession. I could tell you things like yes, I find blokes as equally attractive as the average skirt and yes, I spend an unhealthy amount of time wondering what it would be like to investigate the nether regions of both, and what could you do? Get angry? Offended? Embarrassed, even just for my sake? You don't even know who I am, so why bother? I'm certainly not buggered. What you think of my sexual orientation matters about as much to me as memorising the names of all the goblin generals from the 1600s—which, may I add, really is a load of useless information.
Speaking of confessions and useless information, I'm going to tell you something that would probably surprise you if you knew who I was. My favourite colour is red.
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I suppose you're right, it doesn't really matter. I haven't given too much thought to it, to be honest. I mean, I find girls attractive and all, but bugger, they can be annoying, at least compared with the blokes I know, anyway. And I know that doesn't bother some guys, but I can't really picture myself with a girl if I can't even carry on a decent conversation without it ending in tears or hysterics.
Red, huh? I guess that's one thing we don't have in common. Red looks terrible on me. But why would that surprise me?
I don't think I have anything worth confessing about. I'm not that interesting of a person, really.
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You're a bit slow on the uptake, aren't you? I expected you to at least narrow down my House from that bit of information. Probably for the better if you didn't. Wouldn't want to ruin the fun of anonymity. Tears and hysterics? What the hell kind of women are you seeing? I want a list, too, so I can make sure to avoid them.
Do you really look that bad in red? I'd say I'd be the judge, but there we go with the anonymity issue again. Whose brilliant idea was this whole mess?
Oh, come on, everyone has something worth confessing. If you can't think of anything, I've got plenty of suggestions. Like, for instance, who do you fancy? Anyone? Have you managed to weed your way into some hormonal girl's (or bloke's) knickers yet? Better yet, humour me this: what do you think about behind the drapes at night? And don't play stupid, you know exactly what I mean.
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What does someone's colour preference have to do with their House? And you're right, at this point I'm probably happier writing to a random prat. If I start putting a face to these letters, I probably wouldn't be able to finish writing them. As for the hysterical women, it was just one, and she's already left school, but I'll let you know if I run into another one.
Dumbledore's, I'd imagine. He seems to have this crazy idea that Houses will get along if this works. I mean, come on, could you ever imagine Slytherin and Gryffindor getting along?
I fancy a couple of people, just on looks alone, though. Either of the Patil sisters would do, but I think Padma's the slightly saner of the two, considering half the things out of Parvati's mouth are giggles (is it just me, or do they do it on purpose because they know how annoying it is?). But I'll be damned if I can tell them apart when they're not wearing House colours.
To be honest, though, I think I prefer blondes. That Greengrass girl doesn't have much of a personality but I've almost convinced myself that it'd be worth the bother. And no, I haven't slept with anyone, if you must know. Haven't been actively trying to, either; there's too much drama involved and I have enough of that in my life already. Et tu?
I don't need to play stupid, I do know what you mean, and you're fooling yourself if you think I'm going to answer that.
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'Et tu?' Was that a hint about your ancestral background or just a spectacularly bad attempt at flourish in your writing?
I must agree with you, though. I imagine the day that a Slytherin and a Gryffindor can pass one another without insult or bloodshed would mark the approach of the Apocalypse.
Padma is not sane, and trust me, I speak from personal experience. Do not let her womanly qualities fool you. I don't care how nice her rack is; she's not worth the trouble. Anyone that spends the majority of their holidays making colour-coded charts for exams that are ten ages away cannot be labelled 'sane' in any sense of the word.
Greengrass, huh? And here I was thinking you didn't have any taste. Take my word for it when I say that despite the lack of intelligent conversation, it most definitely would be worth it, if she weren't currently dating Wayne Hopkins—whom I know only by reputation, but I suspect that if you so much as give Daphne a once-over he'd probably tie you to a goal post, hook your tongue to the end of his broom, and proceed to fly across the pitch until he'd turned you inside out. Girl like that, can't really blame him. Terry Boot's still in the hospital wing, from what I've heard.
I'm honestly not that picky when it comes to looks—or gender, for that matter. I tend to simply want what (or who) I can't have, which unfortunately is the exact opposite of productive in the dating department.
If you're this reserved about everything in writing, I hate to think what you're like in person. Would you feel more comfortable if I went first?
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A female friend of mine makes colour-coded charts for exams, maybe it's just a chick thing. But then I tend to make colour-coded charts for upcoming matches, so I guess I can't really talk. Nice imagery, but have you considered the possibility that I am Hopkins?
What you think you can't have or know you can't have? Because if it's the former, that doesn't make you counter-productive, it makes you a closet sadist. And I'm not that reserved, I just don't think it's proper to divulge those sorts of things in polite conversation. But if talking about it'll keep you from getting obsessed, then knock yourself out.
Harry stares at his letter and idly sucks on the end of his quill. He really wants to add more, and he probably can if he tries hard enough, but the subject leaves him feeling uncomfortable. He doesn't know a lot about sex, nor does he pretend to—he tends to distract himself thoroughly with classes and Quidditch practice and the occasional DA meeting when he has time—not to mention, you know, the Dark Lord and all—and has successfully avoided thinking about it too thoroughly. Sure, there probably isn't a single seventh-year bloke who doesn't indulge themselves with the occasional wank, but very few of them would ever admit to it, much less go into detail about the act or what they think about when they do it.
He sighs and looks up, and immediately stiffens. Draco Malfoy is across the way at the Slytherin table, eyeing Harry and probably thinking of the best way to sabotage him without getting caught—tomorrow is the first Quidditch match of the season, Gryffindor versus Slytherin. Harry isn't worried because he has never failed to beat the pasty prat to the Snitch, but everyone knows Slytherins are dirty fighters and Harry isn't stupid enough to let his guard down so soon before the match.
Malfoy notices him looking and smirks. Harry rolls his eyes and, with a quick sweep of the Hall to make sure none of the professors are watching, graciously gives him the finger.
Apocalypse averted, at least for today.
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The purpose of these letters isn't polite conversation. The purpose is inter-House unity. What better way to accomplish that than trying to meet each other's sexual needs? Sex always brings people together. And if there's one person I'm sure you're not, it's that uptight idiot. He couldn't spell Quidditch if it kicked him in the arse, and it's hardly privileged information that he's hitting that every night, my virginal friend.
As for thinking or knowing, it's like what you said, these aren't the sorts of things you post on the boards or ask potential partners at random to see if they're into it. I mean, most people don't even know what they want. Do you know what turns you on? Have you even thought about it? And I mean really thought about. Most people don't. They just assume they're the same as everyone else. I mean sure, some fundamentals are always the same—depending on your preference, there's always something to be said for an appealing partner, but whether you're lifting shirts or skirts doesn't really matter.
For instance, I like to really pay attention to people's bodies; how they move, how fit they are, the colour of their skin or the shape of their hips or how flexible they are. You should try it, sometime. I think you'd be surprised how much you notice about what you think you like now and what you'll realise after paying more attention to detail. That's the key thing, really—attention to detail. Little things that people overlook or don't bother with. Foreplay, for instance, is totally underrated. I'm sick and tired of all these bullshit rumours about blokes liking to skip it. It's my favourite part.
When I fantasise, it rarely begins when I'm preparing for bed. My time is far too valuable to be spent dozing off unnecessarily. Usually, it's somewhere public, like sitting in the library, or in the Great Hall, or even a classroom. I'll be sitting there, innocently trying to concentrate on one thing or another, and surprise, there's the hormones, finding any excuse to turn my mind to much more devious things. Like when a particularly nice arse will walk by, or as someone accidentally brushes against me in a corridor, or that brunette across the way starts sucking on the end of his quill, like it's a perfectly innocent and acceptable thing to do in public. If only he knew what I was thinking... It's unfair, really. Items that encourage public sucking of any sort should be banned from an institution housing teenagers.
See, I told you. I've spent far too much time thinking about this. But on a plus side, I know exactly what I like. What I want. The only hard part, I suppose, is trying to get it across when the time comes.
Harry makes it through the Quidditch match virtually untouched, and is first out of the showers. Hedwig has left this latest reply on his locker during the game; he finishes reading and, grinning to himself, tucks it away in the pocket of his jeans just as Ron steps out of the showers and into the locker room. Harry stops grinning to avoid any awkward questions, but Ron is too engrossed with the euphoria of winning to notice anything anyway.
'That game rocked,' Ron says, towelling his hair. 'Did you see the look on Malfoy's face when Peakes got that Bludger off? Hah!'
Harry grins again. He sits on the bench to de-fog his glasses with his shirt before putting it on. It is always very humid in the showers after any game, especially those against Slytherin, which tend to leave players sorer and dirtier than usual.
'I hope Ginny's okay,' Harry says. Mere seconds before he had gotten the Snitch, she was in possession of the Quaffle and had taken a Bludger to the throat and been rushed off to the hospital wing.
Ron shrugs. 'Eh, she'll be fine,' he says. 'Fred and George have done worse, and she still always managed to hammer them for it. Crabbe'll be saying hello to her Bat-Bogey Hex the moment she's up, you mark my words.'
'Good lord, Potter, are you trying to blind us?' sneers a nasty voice. Draco Malfoy steps out of the showers with a towel tied around his waist. Blaise Zabini follows him out, nursing a nasty cut on his forearm. 'Put some fucking clothes on, will you?'
Harry has always thought sharing showers between teams is a bad idea, especially since Slytherins are known for being sore losers. However, he is pleased to notice—blurry though the prat may be sans glasses—that Malfoy has a large and probably painful bruise on his ribs from where Peakes had nailed him with a Bludger, giving Harry a clear path to the Snitch. It had been an easy win after that.
Fortunately, Harry is not ashamed of his appearance and Malfoy's remark does not trouble him, mostly because he certainly looks better than that pale bastard does without his robes on. He smirks at Malfoy. 'You're hardly one to talk, pasty.'
Ron snickers, tossing his towel in the laundry bin. 'Seriously, Malfoy, if anyone here has the potential to blind, it's your pale arse.'
'Must suck to be you, then, seeing as you can't afford glasses,' Malfoy says, unperturbed, and Blaise laughs.
Ron stiffens a little but doesn't rise; Harry is continually impressed by Ron's growing self-control, but he's hardly going to let Malfoy insult his friends and get away with it.
'Are you sure Peakes didn't get you in the arse, too?' Harry asks, pushing his glasses on. 'You seem a bit butt hurt, Malfoy. Can't be a winner all the time, you know.'
'Or in your case, any time,' Ron finishes for him, and laughs.
Malfoy flushes slightly, but recovers quickly. 'You both seem pretty keen on my arse,' he sneers. 'Fucking tossers.' And then he turns his back to them to open his locker on the other side of the room.
'Yeah, so keen that I'd hardly be able to spot the Snitch if you weren't so shit at Seeking yourself,' Harry says sarcastically.
Malfoy is still facing his locker, but Harry smirks when he notices a change in Malfoy's posture; he stands up a little straighter, though this is a subtle adjustment as both of them are shorter than most of the other players—and certainly thinner, as is preferred in good Seekers. Quidditch, however, is not easy on the body and there isn't a senior player that doesn't have the muscle tone to show for it... I like to really pay attention to people's bodies... and a fair share of scars to go with it—how they move—Malfoy shifts his weight from one leg to the other—the shape of their hips—the lines in his back tighten—you'd be surprised how much you notice—the frame of his shoulders becomes rigid—key thing, really—and come to think of it, even if he is a pasty bastard—attention to detail—Malfoy really doesn't have a bad arse, as far as blokes go...
What the hell is going on in my head?
Harry blinks and looks up. Ron is standing beside him; he raises his eyebrows. Harry realises that Malfoy and Zabini are now both fully dressed and ignoring them, heads bent close in whispered conversation.
'You all right, mate?' Ron asks warily. 'You looked—did you just have one of your—' Ron lowers his voice, '—you know, visions?'
'Huh? Er, no,' Harry says. 'Just remembered we still have to finish that Potions essay by tomorrow, is all.' He stands and hoists his Firebolt over his shoulder. 'Come on, let's go. It's bloody boiling in here.'
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